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Call for inquiry into the health effects of Estuary industry

AN independent public inquiry needs to be undertaken to properly assess the impact of industries situated along the Shannon Estuary on the environment and health of Clare people.

That’s according to Deputy Cathal Crowe who is supporting calls from local environment campaigner Pat Geoghegan for a fresh look at the impact of local industries in view of the findings of an epidemiologist.

In an interview with the Clare Champion, Deputy Crowe said concerned residents living on both sides of the estuary want more than the current level of EPA inspections on industries releasing substances into the atmosphere.

The Fianna Fáil Deputy stressed this call isn’t about jeopardising jobs provided by these industries but centres on appropriately addressing legitimate concerns of environmental campaigners who claim to have a body of evidence justifying their dissatisfaction with current levels of environmental protection.

The Meelick Deputy said it was important that air monitoring stations should be permanently located on the Clare side of the estuary in view of the fact that what goes up the chimneys in factories like Irish Cement at Castlemungret, Limerick is taken by the prevailing winds into South-East Clare.

He called on the Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Climate Change to look at this matter and examine the body of evidence that has already been collected by local environmental activists.

He proposed this committee could assemble a panel of independent experts who could report back to them within a set time frame to set up an independent environment inquiry.

“The government needs to take the lead on this. If it is deemed necessary, international experts should be utilised. Environmental campaigners have to be prepared to share their body of evidence to establish a basis for this inquiry.”

His comments come after the findings of an epidemiologist raised serious questions marks over the conclusions reached by the controversial €5.2 million Askeaton Report in 2001.

Following a six-year study, the EPA reported that air-quality measurements at the alumina plant at Rusal Aughinish, and at two ESB power stations nearby, had complied with EU standards since the mid-1980s at least.

It found there is little or no difference in the quality of health enjoyed by the Askeaton population compared to the populations in counties Clare, Limerick and Tipperary.

The results from the Human Health Survey did not support a link to any form of local environmental pollution, while the study did not find a significant degree of excessive
ill health in the Askeaton area.

It failed to find a definitive cause for the litany of human and animal health problems in the locality.

Dr Sarah Walters, a senior lecturer in public health, Department of Public Health and Epidemiology, University of Birmingham completed a written peer review of the Askeaton health reports at the request of Dr Kevin Kelleher in April 2000.

In her review, Dr Walters stated the pollutants to which the farmers are allegedly exposed are poorly defined and specific measurements of exposure are not available.

She described the Askeaton report as akin to a “health trawl, without specific prior hypotheses, and in the absence of environmental data, is unlikely to be able to link health effects to exposure or establish a casual relationship”.

She stated the population affected is small leading to low statistical power, the alleged health effects are multiple and non-specific and the routine data are not available at appropriate levels of geographical resolution for the study.

“There was no occupational study of workers in the chemical industries in the Askeaton area,” she wrote.

“If there is a dose-response effect, then workers will have higher exposure and a study of workers is the most likely to detect any ill health directly attributed to the chemical.

“It is not possible to link any self-reported ill health with pollution exposure, since no objective measures are available.

“Plausible casual relationships require evidence of exposure to a specific and biologically-plausible cause and demonstration of dose-response relationships, which can’t be achieved in the absence of exposure measurements.”

She recommended that consideration should be given to a study of health workers employed in the relevant industries.

She proposed that a monitoring and modelling exercise should be carried out to determine exposure of the population to emissions from industries.

While the Askeaton study failed to show any definitive link between ill health and living in Askeaton, she pointed out the study was never going to establish this link without the availability of objective measurements of exposure.

Some of the key recommendations made by Dr Walters were not included in the final Askeaton Report, which Pat Geoghegan claimed has totally undermined its main findings.

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